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Things To Do In Intramuros Manila – Intramuros, latin for “inside the walls”, is the oldest neighborhood and a must visit on the list of Manila attractions. Also known as the Ciudad Murada (Walled City) because of its most famous feature: a nearly three-mile-long circuit of massive stone walls and fortifications that almost completely surrounds the entire district. From the city’s foundation in 1571 to the end of Spanish rule in 1898, Intramuros was Manila.
A Little History
The Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi laid the foundations of the new capital on the former site of Maynilad, a palisaded riverside settlement ruled by a native chieftain. To protect the inhabitants from attack, in the late 1500s construction began on a series of stone walls and fortifications that would eventually enclose a pentagonal area approximately 0.67 sq km in size, within which lay a tight grid-like system of streets and a main square surrounded by government structures. The defensive curtain was more or less completed by the 1700s, although improvements and other construction work continued well into the next century.
Within the protective walls rose a city of stone palaces, churches, monasteries, convents, schools, and fine courtyard houses. In the centuries that followed, Manila (meaning Intramuros) served as the capital of the Spanish East Indies – the centre of commerce, education, government, and religion in Spain’s most distant imperial possession.
Except for a brief period under British rule (1762-1764), Intramuros remained a Spanish city until 1898, when the U.S. took control of the Philippines at the end of the Spanish-American War.
In 1945, during the fierce Battle of Manila between American, Filipino and Japanese forces, Intramuros was almost completely destroyed. Instead of rebuilding on the same site, many of the religious orders and educational institutions that once resided in the walled district packed up and moved elsewhere. Although steps were taken to protect the city’s historic character, vague laws and poor enforcement led to many unsightly modern buildings being built upon the ruins of the old. In 1979, the Intramuros Administration was established and stronger measures introduced in order to preserve what was left.
Many of the city’s ancient gates and most of the walls have since been restored. On the other hand, there has been almost no progress in the reconstruction of key landmarks (such as major churches and old government buildings), due in part to a serious lack of funds and the existence of new structures.
Taking The Tour
It’s hard to get hopelessly lost in Intramuros, thanks to the district’s orderly street plan. General Luna (also known by its old name, Calle Real del Palacio) is the closest thing Intramuros has to a main street and gives visitors easy access to most of the major attractions, including San Agustín Church and Manila Cathedral. Follow this street all the way to its northwestern tip and you’ll find yourself in front of Fort Santiago; go the other way and you’ll eventually end up in Rizal Park, which is just over the border in the nearby Ermita district.
If you do lose your bearings, don’t panic. Keep in mind that except for a small section near the river, the entire district is surrounded by walls – so there probably isn’t much of a chance that you’ll inadvertently end up in the wider city beyond. A quick look at a map (and perhaps a little help from passers-by) should easily put you back on track.
- By calesa – First used on the streets of Manila in the 18th century, these horse-drawn carriages can usually be found waiting for passengers near Fort Santiago. A nice, old-fashioned way to get around Intramuros. To avoid getting ripped off, it may be a good idea to ask about the route and confirm the price of the trip before setting out.
- On foot – Walking from one attraction to another is a popular way to get around Intramuros. Just mind the cars: there are almost no pavements to speak of so pedestrians usually share space with automobiles. It is even possible to walk on some sections of the old city walls.
- Tricycle – The tricycle is a good way to get around if you are alone or for two small made persons. It is cheap and the “driver” is friendly and knowledgeable enough to take you around to all the sights. Get off if you are interested to spend time at a particular site. They charge by the hour, best to settle the rate before start and set the time. The tariff drops towards the end of the day. By 4 it drops to almost half which is anyway a fair price.
What To See At Intramuros Manila
Walls, gates, and fortifications
Fort Santiago Manila
Fort Santiago Manila, Santa Clara (on the NW end of Plaza Moriones), 8AM-6PM daily. The former military headquarters of the Spanish colonial government. Although the fort sustained very heavy damage during the 1945 Battle of Manila, several key portions of the compound were subsequently restored – including its iconic gate with a wooden relief featuring Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor-slayer), the patron saint of Spain. It is now considered a major landmark and one of Manila’s most popular tourist attractions, partly because José Rizal – the national hero of the Philippines – was imprisoned here prior to his execution on 30 Dec 1896.
Postigo del Palacio
Postigo del Palacio, Santa Lucia (a short distance from the back of the Palacio del Gobernador). Built in 1662, renovated 1782-83. On 30 Dec 1896, national hero José Rizal was taken through this gate en route to the place of his execution, in what is known today as Rizal Park
Baluarte de San Diego
Baluarte de San Diego, Santa Lucia cor. Muralla. Dating from the 17th century, this formidable bastion surrounds the remains of the round fort of Nuestra Señora de Guia, the first stone fort built in Manila. Severely damaged during the Second World War, the Baluarte de San Diego was restored in the 1980s and is now a major tourist attraction.
- Puerta de Santa Lucia
- Baluartillo de San Jose and Reducto de San Pedro
- Puerta Real and Revellin de Real del Bagumbayan
- Baluarte de San Andres
- Baluarte de San Francisco de Dilao
- Puerta del Parian and Revellin del Parian
- Baluarte de San Gabriel
- Puerta de Isabel II, Magallanes Drive (near Colegio de San Juan de Letrán). Built in 1861, this was the last gate to be opened in Intramuros’ walls under Spanish rule. A fine statue of Queen Isabel II of Spain stands in front of the gate.
Things To Do In Intramuros Manila
Plaza de Roma
Plaza de Roma, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Andres Soriano (Aduana) (in front of Manila Cathedral), Bounded by the Manila Cathedral to the southeast, the Palacio del Gobernador to the southwest and the Ayuntamiento to the northeast, this small plot of fland is Intramuros’ very own plaza mayor (main square). At the center of the plaza stands a monument to King Carlos IV of Spain, cast in 1808 and erected in 1824 by a colonial government grateful for his having dispatched a shipment of smallpox vaccine to the Philippines.
Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (Manila Cathedral), Cabildo cor. Beaterio (in front of Plaza de Roma), Destroyed and rebuilt several times over, the Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Manila and one of the most important churches in the Philippines. The current Neo-Romanesque iteration (consecrated in 1958) is the eighth – or sixth, depending on who’s counting – to stand on the site since 1581, succeeding the 19th-century structure that was leveled to the ground during the 1945 Battle of Manila. A small exhibit detailing the Cathedral’s history can be found in one of the side chapels near the entrance. Masses are offered daily; refer to the official website for a full schedule of liturgical services. Free, but donations are appreciated. On February 2012, church authorities announced the temporary closure of the Cathedral (effective 7th February) in order to make way for urgent structural repairs. It was reopened to the public on April 2014 after undergoing extensive architectural restoration and rehabilitation. The reopened Cathedral also features an enhanced sound, video, and lighting system.
San Agustín Church
San Agustín Church, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Real, A true Spanish Baroque treasure, with magnificent trompe-l’œil ceilings and a splendid high altar. Consecrated in 1607, this ancient building managed to survive the Second World War (although it, too, sustained heavy damage) and is said to be the oldest stone church currently standing in the Philippines.
- Ayuntamiento, Andres Soriano (Aduana) cor. Cabildo (right next to Plaza de Roma), Completely rebuilt in 1884 after the disastrous earthquake of 1863, the seat of Manila’s colonial-era city council once had some of the grandest interiors in Intramuros. The 1945 Battle of Manila left it a gutted shell, of which only parts of the first storey survived; it then suffered the indignity of serving as a parking lot. A major reconstruction project that started a few years ago is finally nearing completion, with the facade of the historic building now having regained much of its prewar glory.
- Palacio del Gobernador, General Luna (Calle Real del Palacio) cor. Andres Soriano (Aduana) (right next to Plaza de Roma), This eight-storey office building was erected in the late 1970s on the site of the Spanish Governor-General’s official residence, which was destroyed in a powerful 1863 earthquake that also damaged many other structures in Intramuros. Sadly, the hulking modern building looks almost nothing like its grand 19th-century namesake.
- Plaza Moriones – Located in front of Fort Santiago, this is where the Galeria de la Revolucion Filipina is situated.
- Plaza México
- Plaza Sto. Tomas
- Plazuela de Sta. Isabel – a memorial monument of the civilian victims of World War II can be found here.